George Lowman, who died Saturday at the age of 82, didn't become an active shipping executive until he was 62. But he was an effective and memorable one.
At an age when many men contemplate retirement, the Harvard-trained lawyer was asked to take the helm of Farrell Lines Inc. in 1978 when his wife's uncle, James A. Farrell, one of the company's two founders, died. It was a difficult moment; the line was in the midst of a major expansion at a turbulent economic time, trying to add the vessels of the just-defunct American Export Line to its own fleet.But Mr. Lowman signed on as chief executive, backed the company out of a crisis and ultimately steered it back to financial health. And he served as an active shipping CEO for 20 years, coming into the office daily until not long before he died.
Mr. Lowman's first experience with the U.S. merchant marine was in World War II, when he was an Army officer bound for Europe on a troopship. He probably didn't expect then that he'd finish his life as the chairman and chief executive of one of the few U.S.-flag lines still in existence. Nonetheless, that's what happened.
Farrell Lines was founded by John J. Farrell, father of Mr. Lowman's wife, Mary, and his brother James - who came from an Irish family with deep roots in shipping - in 1925 as American South African Line. It was renamed after World War II. Mr. Lowman was determined that it live and prosper as an independent American shipping company.
Despite the fact that his first post-war career - as a Connecticut trial attorney - had nothing to do with the sea, Mr. Lowman was the embodiment of a traditional maritime executive. He was polished and courtly but individualistic. He was fiercely proud that his company was a U.S.-flag ship operator. And he was determined to maintain its independence, rejecting bids from other carriers.
In an era of vast corporate mergers, an era when words like shipping have given way to words like logistics, an era when many maritime executives are often cut from the same gray, indistinguishable corporate cloth, George Lowman was an original. And he'll be remembered for a long time.